When the going gets tough who doesn’t love a big helping of their favorite comfort food to make them feel a lot better? Rarely sought out for their nourishing or health benefits, great comfort foods are beloved for their ability to lift your mood and take the edges off a particularly rough day.
Everyone has their own special, go-to comfort food, something that instantly cheers them up… but the truly great comfort foods tend to inspire legions of devotees from the U.S.A to Europe to Africa. Sometimes it’s the ease of availability; sometimes it’s the taste. The best comfort foods usually all have three things in common: they have to make you feel immensely better after taking just a few bites (though it’s likely you’ll continue eating to prolong that heartening feeling), they have to have a slightly sentimental or nostalgic quality that reminds you of your childhood or happier times, and they need to be absolutely delicious.
Psychologically, comfort foods tend to pique our positive emotions and relieve negative psychological effects — while they are so lusciously appetizing they, more importantly, are associated with other things (memories, feelings, places, and people) that make us feel better just by drawing the connection through food. And while it is incredibly comforting to polish off a whole plate of your favorite comforting meal, in reality just a few bites will usually accomplish what you need.
Some comfort foods are a favorite in many cultures, like cheesy pizza which is enjoyed everywhere from Italy (where it was invented) to Australia and the U.S. Others are local specialties and national dishes like koshary in Egypt and golubtsy from Russia. Some, like butter chicken from India, are rich and spicy treats that retain all the tastes of their country of origins even though they’re now enjoyed across the world.
That said, no matter how comforting the food is, many of the most popular dishes are still high in fat and low in nutrition (generally), and using these comforting treats as emotional stress relief is believed to be one of the key contributors of obesity in the United States. The key is to enjoy your comfort foods, like most great things, in moderation… and usually when you really, really need it!
Serusha Govender is The Daily Meal's Travel Editor. Follow her on twitter @SerushaGovender